Your Destination Guide to San Francisco

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California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences
California Academy of Sciences

© Caitlin Childs

The San Francisco Academy of Sciences is an aquarium, planetarium, rain forest, natural history museum, and research center all housed within the world's largest LEED certified building. Since reopening in Golden Gate Park, the site has attracted a constant stream of visitors and media attention.

The first thing you will notice about the academy is the unique design of the building itself. Italian architect Renzo Piano attempted to create a sense of transparency between the museum and the beautiful park it calls home. From most points on the main floor, it is possible to see the other side of the building, and natural light creates the open, airy feeling of exploring a forest. Skylights on the roof open and close to warm or cool the air.

The roof itself is an attraction. Landscaped with native plants, it traps rainwater, provides insulation, and is a natural habitat for local wildlife. The four sloped domes replicate San Francisco's steep topography.

Inside, the Academy is also teeming with life. The four-story Rainforests of the World exhibit replicates the tropical forest environments of Borneo, Madagascar, Costa Rica, and the Amazon, and is filled with 100 reptiles and amphibians, 600 birds and butterflies, and a cave of bats. Arapaima, giant catfish, and arowanas swim through the flooded Amazon basin as visitors stroll through a tunnel below.

The Steinhard aquarium has more than 900 species of live animals from around the world. Eels, giant clams, and 2,000 tropical fish swim through the world's deepest living coral reef.

On the main floor, an albino alligator named Claude sleeps on a rock while a much more lively colony of penguins splash and play in African Hall.

The Academy is also home to the world's largest all-digital planetarium, a naturalist center, and many changing exhibits. Be prepared to spend most of the day exploring and learning.

Insider tips

At $25 a ticket, you'll want to get your money's worth, here's how:

• Upon arrival, head directly to the Planetarium to pick up tickets to the next available show. Viewings are limited and tickets go fast.

• The penguins are at the end of African Hall on the main floor, not in the aquarium as many assume.

• Unless it is your only chance to visit the Academy, avoid the crowded free day on the third Wednesday of the month.

• If the café is too crowded, take a break for lunch: get a return stamp at the door and walk to one of the many restaurants on 9th and Irving in the Inner Sunset district.

• On Thursdays, the Academy stays open late for the 21-and-over crowd. Admission is only $10, but most of the exhibits close by 8, so make the rounds before hitting the dance floor.

Attraction Information

  • Hours:
  • Monday through Saturday: 9:30am to 5pm
  • Sunday: 11am to 5pm
  • Admission:
  • Adults: $24.95
  • Seniors (ages 65 and over) and Students (with ID) and Youth (ages 12-17): $19.95
  • Children (ages 7-11): $14.95
  • Ages 6 and under: Free
  • To purchase tickets, go here: www.calacademy.org/tickets
  • Metro Stop:
  • Muni train N: exit Irving St & 9th Ave
  • Muni buses 6, 43, 44, 66
  • Contact:
  • Location: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
  • Phone: 415-379-8000
  • Website: www.calacademy.org
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